Monday, July 12, 2004

The Press and Iraq

On the Daily Show tonight, Wolf Blitzer was admitting that the press let down the public before the war, that they should have been more skeptical, that they got caught up in a kind of group think. With "everybody" saying that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, "everybody" in the press came to believe it. I still don't understand this. I'm just a mook who gets his news like everybody else, from what I read in the paper and the newsmags, see on TV, and pick up on the net, and I distinctly remember spending the fall and winter before the invasion scouring these sources for some evidence that Iraq had these WMD. And it wasn't there. What I found was the UN inspectors not uncovering WMDs and, as Blitzer admitted, everybody "saying" that the weapons were there somewhere. No proof. Nobody offering proof. Nobody in the press much demanding proof. And people like me, asking "what is going on here?" being treated like kooks. There's nothing I see in the lame mea culpas coming out of the press for the last few months, or from the various investigations into pre-war decision making and intelligence gathering that leads me in any way to believe anybody would behave any differently faced with a similar set of circumstances.

It's become to easy to point fingers at the CIA or some other culprit and say "they did it, they're the ones who mislead us." And although that is true, it is just as true that all those people who were mislead were willing to be mislead. For whatever reason, they abandoned skepticism, they asked for no proof, they were willing to go to war on assurances that we were right. I can think of no greater proof of this than the commendations that were heaped on Colin Powell after his presentation at the UN in February of last year. Pointing at photos of innocuous buildings and trucks and declaring they were mobile chemical weapons labs and bomb factories, playing garbled tapes in which Iraqi officers may or may not have been discussing hiding weapons (what do you think now?), he declared that this unequivocably proved the administration's case. And the press and the people ate it up. And I remember, the next day when I read the paper, wondering "what did I miss?"

I now know that I didn't miss anything. That despite all my self-doubt and questioning at the time, I somehow was right. And after a decade in which the American press has failed the American people in its coverage of Whitewater and the Starr investigations, in its coverage of the 2000 election and its favored story line that Gore was a liar and Bush a straight shooter, after seeing the coverage of the 2004 election so far, in which far too many of our national stenographers have bought into the story line that Kerry, whose positions change when circumstances change, is a flip-flopper, after all that I am absolutely convinced that the National Press coverage of Iraq was not an anomalous failure but a part of the patterm. It exemplifies the press's coverage. Yes, Wolf, you and your companions were guilty of "group think" in Iraq. As you always are.
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